Subject: Under a Cloud - interview w/ Xanana
Australian Network NewsHour with Jim Middleton
[watch via here: http://australianetwork.com/newshour/archives.htm]
Under a cloud
East Timor is battling chronic unemployment and the future of its potentially biggest asset - gas - is under a cloud. Jim Middleton speaks to Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.
East Timor may be one of the world's poorest nations but it does have one very valuable asset - oil and gas.
Woodside Petroleum wants to exploit the Greater Sunrise field but has rejected Dili's proposal to process the gas in East Timor. Now a confrontation appears to be looming with East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao insisting it's not just up to the company, but his country also has a say.
Jim Middleton spoke to Mr Gusmao during his whirlwind visit to Australia.
Jim Middleton: Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time. You sometimes seem like a very reluctant Prime Minister, if I can put it that way. I saw you say that you'd prefer to be growing pumpkins, I think it was. How are you enjoying the job these days?
Xanana Gusmao, East Timorese Prime Minister: Well, if you ask me how I enjoy the job I must tell you that by the daily achievement you can enjoy your, you can fulfill your promise to the people. It is the way how you enjoy your job. If you don't get to solve the problems, of course you will be, at night you will have say, bad nights.
Jim Middleton: So are you sleeping well?
Xanana Gusmao: Sometimes very badly, but many times I feel that I am getting, I'm sleeping well because things are going, the country's calm now, it's stable. Many of the problems that we inherited are solved.
Jim Middleton: You've talked a lot while you were in Australia about the need to provide jobs for the unemployed in East Timor. Is providing work for those without jobs the key to political stability in East Timor, do you think?
Xanana Gusmao: They need jobs. Every year we receive 15,000 to 16,000 youth to the job market. The problem is that we don't have this market and we have to provide job, we have to assist them to gain skills and it's why we are asking to help us in this.
Jim Middleton: I was speaking to President Jose Ramos-Horta earlier in the year and he was pointing out to me that Cuba, for example, was educating doctors for you and yet Australia was not able to see its way clear to do, to provide similar skills training for East Timorese. Do you find that a little ironic?
Xanana Gusmao: Well, everyone can see this. Of course, we are trying also to get other options to send our people to study...
Jim Middleton: I guess what I'm saying is should Australia be doing more?
Xanana Gusmao: But if Australia thinks that it can help in this way, of course we will appreciate very much. And we send already 54 civil servants to Indonesia to have post-evaluation abilities. The problem for us is the education is better here but also very expensive.
Jim Middleton: Do you think that the refusal at this stage of the Australian government to allow your people to participate in the new guest worker scheme reflects some dissatisfaction on the part of the Australian administration in the steps you have taken yourself and your government, to provide employment and encourage employment in East Timor?
Xanana Gusmao: We understand, we understand, we understand that we are not part of Pacific Islands. And that is why by the statements from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, he said that in the end of the year we will see what we can do or Australia can do. And we hope, we hope.
Jim Middleton: What do you say to your critics within East Timor who suggest that in your current budget too much is being spent on or wasted I think they would suggest on recurrent expenditure and not enough is being spent on capital investment - 15 per cent I think as opposed to 85 per cent.
Xanana Gusmao: This is the difference - capital investment in what?
Jim Middleton: Well in education, in health, in schools?
Xanana Gusmao: Well we are investing more than $US2 million to scholarships, to human resources. That never happen. That never happen.
And every year we will spend more and more to prepare our young generation for 10 to 15 years to take over the country. That is why it is not true.
And in my campaign I said we have to cut this vicious cycle, to fix holes and to create new holes. It is not capital investment for my understanding. That is why we are studying how to invest in proper way to push the development growth.
If not, we will not. We will just say, oh I have more two or three police posts this year, three or four schools here. But our people live, our children live far away from schools. There is a big rate of dropouts. Our people live far away from the health service. Our people cannot bring their product to the cities or to the towns because of bad roads. Our people, our children cannot study because they don't have light at night. Our small enterprises, our medium enterprises cannot do anything because we don't deliver electricity, power to their houses.
And what will move the economy? Not only the big investments but also the rural capability to make sure that productive activities are there, are in place in the rural communities. It is what we think about capital development.
Jim Middleton: While you were in Australia you've met with executives from Woodside Petroleum about their plans for exploitation of the gas field at Greater Sunrise. They seem to think that they will not proceed with plans to process the gas in East Timor. Is that a disappointment and is that the end of the story as far as you're concerned?
Xanana Gusmao: I don't believe so.
Jim Middleton: Do you have other options? I mean is it actually a matter for Woodside to decide?
Xanana Gusmao: ... the end of the story because the decisions should be from all of us.
We did one decision, important decision in our history - unilateral proclamation of independence in '75, nobody, no-one supports this, no-one, only a few countries supported us. Unilaterally it is the wrong way to seek for solutions, no? We have to seek for other options also. It is in our interest.
We cannot go and discuss something that we don't know. We have to know, we have to look at the possibilities.
Jim Middleton: So are you saying there are other options beyond Woodside?
Xanana Gusmao: We are trying, we are trying to, we are doing the feasibility studies. For us the problem will be, the problem for us, the decision will be more in technical factors - feasibility, safety, commercial viability, including the cost in each options - will be the deciding factors for this issue.
That is why we promise that in the first quarter of the next year we will announce our own findings. Because it is fair that you, somebody present in the table, one part present his options, and another part present also its options. And only the technical and commercial factors will decide, and we will decide together.
Jim Middleton: So are you saying it's not up to Woodside alone to determine how it proceeds, it is up to East Timor as well?
Xanana Gusmao: Of course.
Jim Middleton: East Timor as well and you could say no to the whole deal?
Xanana Gusmao: Of course. We will discuss. We'll be, there will be Commission for Greater Sunrise. Also we are drawing the protocol to make clear the rules of engagement. We, next year we will announce the strategic planning, the development planning. This is not unilateral problem. It is bilateral problem.
Jim Middleton: Let's go to one final subject which of course is the traumatic events at the beginning of the year with the assassination attempt on Jose Ramos-Horta, I think also yourself. Has the country been able, do you think, in the intervening months been able to put that entirely behind it? Do you think that has now, the trauma is over, stability has returned? Do you think it's as simple as that now?
Xanana Gusmao: Yes. Only by one factor. We started to understand that the fragile state only can come when the institutions of the state don't work together. But if they are together in big national interest issues the state is not fragile. The state can consolidate year by year. And by only this factor I can tell you yes.
Jim Middleton: Prime Minister, it's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Xanana Gusmao: Thank you.